Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Version)

Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Version)

From: Neoplasic Press

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Version)is a new Role-playing Game Core Rulebook from Neoplasic Press.

I met Rafael Chandler at MACE 2006, and he was there to run a few games of Dread. There seemed to be quite a buzz about this game from many of the indie-RPGers, so I thought I would ask Rafael if he would like the game reviewed.

Dreadis a horror game not for the light-at-heart. The book opens with a disclaimer that warns the reader that it deals with good and evil in dark ways. It is a game of heroes, but the acts the heroes work to prevent are truly evil and despicable. It is meant for mature gamers who understand the difference between reality and make-believe. It also uses adult language and adult situations. If you are easily offended, this game is not for you.

The preface tells the story of Rafael’s and his gamer friends’ journey into table top gaming and their dissatisfaction with many of the games they played. Their story is much like many – too complicated, not fun in the beginning, takes too long to really kick butt. This is the genesis of Dreadand explains some of its nature. Also, Rafael and his friends were primarily video gamers, so it also explains some of the inspiration for the game system.

From the back cover: “The bodies that were found were, in many cases, unrecognizable.”

Content: The book is divided into two sections. The first – chapters 1 through 9 is the Player’s section. It, as the name implies, encompasses all that the player needs to know about the game. The second section is for the Director or GM (gamemaster). It provides all the information for a director.

Starting with the Player’s section, after a brief introduction and short fiction, the book dives into the basic premise and an overview of the game with the first two chapters. The basic premise of Dreadis that the players are Disciples – individuals that have gained access to special knowledge, in some manner or fashion, of the world of demons and the war between good and evil. They have been contacted by a Mentor and brought into a Cabal to help hunt the darkness that is coming and fight the demonic influences and all around evil things. The game leaves it to the director and the group to decide on how the world treats them, the knowledge of demons, and the war of good and evil. It could be a world like the series Supernaturalwhere they are on their own, in a world oblivious to their work. Or the world could be aware of the demons and call upon the Cabals when in need. In this world, there is also magic, cultists and a variety of demons and monsters. A lot of horror potential presents itself in the first few pages.

One refreshing note about the first couple of chapters is the importance of jointly telling a story and role-playing in this game. It rewards a player with bonuses for “being cool” and has a table of examples for what is cool and what is not cool. For example a “not cool” way to attack is, “I attack him,” while a cool way is, “I smile and say ‘Hey, you son of a b*tch, I told you, next time you see me, you better run.’ Then I bust him dead in the face with a lead pipe.”

Chapter 3: Characters is the character generation section. In my ‘System’ section below, I’ll cover this system in detail. Chapter 4: Magic seems to be one of the primary focuses for a character because it is one of the larger sections and one with more detail. Magic in this game is called Cathexisand is the ability to channel mental energies to change the world around you. There is something close to 90 spells and each one is described in detail. Separate from magic is the power and rituals of Exorcism, which is a form of Sorcery. Chapter 5 covers that in depth, supplying you with several more spells. The combat chapter follows this. After this, there are several supplementary sections including a sample play (based on a game run at MACE 2006) and the Quickstart rules (which is oddly at the back of the Player’s section).

Marking the start of the Director’s section is Chapter 10: Directing. This chapter provides you with the basic framework of a typical adventure in Dread. Referred to several times as a “case,” the chapter describes elements like the trigger, the investigation, the conflict, the revelation, and the takedown. The game, of course, does not have a specific setting, so it also coaches the director through establishing the game universe. There is one thing that is constant for any game universe. Central to them is the history of good and evil and the battles that mortals have with demons.

Demons take up the largest portion of the director section. There are over 40 demons described. In this game, there are three types of demons – stalkers, hunters and defilers. Defilers are the demons that possess a victim and force them to commit evil acts. Hunters, as the name implies, hunt and kill their victims. Stalkers are haunters and tormentors.

From page #132:“Life’s a sh*t sandwich, motherf*cker and you just took a big bite.”

System: Character Generation involves two primary things – developing the concept and then distributing the specific points to each area. The concept defines the character in non-game terms, gives you a background and a career prior to the encounter with “the darkness,” and gives you a life since joining a Cabal and fighting demons. The game system does not give you a lot of guidelines regarding creating the concept. It is just something that is done. The concept should include a life prior, then the encounter with something demonic, and then the life after.

In creating the character in game terms, first there is the character’s attributes – Strength, Sense and Soul. Nine points are distributed between these three, and one must be at least a 5. This only leaves a certain number of combinations. Almost everything else is derived from these stats. Depending on which one of these attributes are 5 or higher, the character chooses a discipline that represents what the character is particularly skilled in. These can be Combat, Lore or Exorcism. Connecting your character to one of these gains you bonuses in specific instances. In general, these define the role the character is to play in a investigating party.

There is also a concept of Drive. This is related to the dark encounter that brought the character into a Cabal and is essentially what “drives” the character to hunt. If a certain situation can fall under the character’s Drive, then he gains bonuses. Also, there is Fury which is the measure of the Disciple’s power. He uses this to advance his character as well as spending to “kick *ass” – special maneuvers and last ditch effort effects that help a character out.

The Core system revolves around rolling a number of 12-sided (d12) dice. A difficulty is set from 1 to 12, and a number of dice are rolled against the difficulty supplied by the director. If one of the dice beats that difficulty, it is a success. It is a very basic system, designed not to get in the way of the fun. This also describes the combat system. A round of combat includes Initiative, Attack and Defense. Initiative is determined round by round, and damage is determined by subtracting the highest defending die from the highest attack die, and adding weapons damage. There is a certain appeal to a system that is as simple as that. The Magic system is one area in which they put a lot of focus, but only in content. The Magic system is as simple as the Core system is. You have a certain number of spells that you can have and a certain number of spells you can cast, all based on your Magic and Soul score.

Layout: The book is laid out with a mixture of drawn art and photos and done in a very gritty and dark way. The art ranges from good to not-so-good but it is reasonably appropriate for the work. The fiction is done in a typewriter font while the game rules are done in a regular Arial style font. There is a lot of short fiction throughout the book, giving you a little taste of the game here and there. It is a hefty soft cover book that gives you basically all you need to play in this game universe.

In conclusion, it is a game with an interesting and somewhat engaging game world and a simplistic system. It is a game that is more geared toward one-shot adventures and less about long term campaigns. It tends to focus more on the story and how the characters can “kick ass” in it than the character and its development. Some games try to create a number of ways a character concept has “access” to the game system through game mechanics like advantage/disadvantage systems, lengthy skill lists, feats and detailed magic systems. In doing this, some may feel that the game is too complicated.

This game minimizes the access points of the character to the system and leaves the depth of the character to the player and the director through the character concept. Knowing that the game was created by a group of video game designers kind of explains some of the simplicity and ease of play. The game has a sort of video game depth to it, at least in character generation and core system terms. If you like simple systems with strong focus on story, horror and generally having fun playing, this is a good game for it. What it lacks in depth in character or system, it makes up in simple elegance and story.

For more details on Neoplasic Press and their new Role-playing Game Core Rulebook “Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Version)” check them out at their website http://www.dread-rpg.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Version)

From: Neoplasic Press

Type of Game: Role-playing Game Core Rulebook

Written by: Rafael Chandler

Art by: Barb Bel, Claudia Cangini, Adam Chowles, Vivienne Gallant, Char Reed

Number of Pages: 275

Game Components Included: Core Rule book

Game Components NotIncluded: Dice, paper, pencil

Retail Price: $ 25.00 (US)

Player Ages: 18+

Website: www.dread-rpg.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung